“Skiing conservatively really isn’t an option for him”
by Than Acuff
Copious amounts of snow this year set up the Crested Butte Mountain Sports Team (CBMST) telemark freeski team for success as they hit the road for their annual trip to Grand Targhee ski area to compete in the Freeheel Life Cup and Karbon Telemark National Championships at Grand Targhee Resort.
The past several seasons have been slow and low in the snowfall department, and coach Mark Robbins was left to his own creativity to prepare the kids for freeski competitions. This year Robbins has been able to take the kids anywhere and everywhere to prepare.
“In past years we’d have to be creative to gain strength and find any airtime possible to get the kids comfortable,” explains Robbins. “This year has been incredible. The confidence the kids have with all of the terrain they’ve been able to ski is awesome.”
Furthermore, to gain additional experience, two of the telemark ski athletes jumped into the alpine fray competing on the IFSA junior freeskiing tour as well, getting a couple of comps under their skis before heading to Grand Targhee.
Robbins packed up the vehicle last week to take four of his six skiers to the event and the team was treated to powdery conditions and feature-filled venues that they took full advantage of.
“The venues were skiing really well and conditions were awesome,” says Robbins.
The weekend kicked off Thursday, March 2 with athletes expecting two runs only to be cut back to one due to the size of the field of skiers.
“People say telemark skiing is dying but this was the biggest field by far,” says Robbins. “The game plan going in was to lay down a solid run and qualify.”
Luke Shull, Dane De Frates and Dylan Alagna all jumped into the 15-18 year old age class this season after spending the past couple of seasons in the younger ranks while Matthew Alagna jumped into his first competition ever, skiing in the 12-14 age group.
Shull laid down what Robbins believed to be the best run of his career so far hitting and landing two jumps to finish the day 13th. De Frates has struggled through the IFSA competitions earlier this season, as his aggressive style has backfired.
“Skiing conservatively isn’t really an option for him,” says Robbins. “Dane was just going for staying on his feet.”
On day one at Grand Targhee, his penchant for pushing the limit paid off as he laced three airs into his line, landed them all and finished the day in second place. Alagna, on the other hand, switched roles with De Frates. Alagna racked up third- and fourth-place finishes on the IFSA tour but got a little “loose” during his run on opening day, finishing in 19th. Lower than he hoped but high enough to move on to day two. Meanwhile, in the younger division, Matthew kept it together enough to squeak into the finals as well.
The team had Friday off while the adults, including Robbins and CBMST grad Mackenzie Mailly, jumped into the adult competition and then returned to action for the finals on Saturday and a new venue with new conditions.
“It was a bigger venue with higher consequence and there’s a feature called the Wave at the bottom, offering a park-style element,” says Robbins.
Sitting in 19th place, Alagna knew he really had nothing to lose and everything to gain so he let it rip, opening with a huge entrance air that even the adults skied away from. He followed that up by charging down a pillow line and then finished with a backflip off of the Wave to post the second-highest score of the day and move from 19th place to fourth overall.
“It was all about having fun and going for it to try to get the highest score,” says Robbins.
Shull was in a similar position with Robbins, setting a goal for him to crack the top 10 for the first time in his competition career. Shull headed Robbins’ advice, skiing a smart and challenging line to move from 13th to sixth place overall.
De Frates had the most to lose, coming into the finals in second place. He stuck with his plan to mix in a technical line while hitting four features, including a backflip off of the Wave, posting the highest score of the day and taking the 15-18 year-old title.
“That was super good after having a challenging start to his comp season,” says Robbins. “All of them posted some of the highest scores of the day.”
Matthew was just happy to get another day of competition skiing under his belt as he gains experience for the future.
While De Frates and Shull are out of the running for a spot in the IFSA alpine invitational finals later this season, Alagna is in the running with his finishes earlier this year. He looks to punch his ticket to the finals when the IFSA Nationals come to Crested Butte this weekend.
“Dylan needs to ski within himself this weekend,” says Robbins. “He got a little loose in Targhee and just needs to reel it back in.”
Meanwhile, both Robbins and CBMST program graduate Mackenzie Mailly threw down in the adult competition over the weekend. Robbins finished in sixth place, “even though I’m older than everyone by a decade,” while Mailly dominated her competitors to win the women’s title.